[Lingtyp] copula as focus marker

Christian Lehmann christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de
Wed Mar 15 18:24:42 UTC 2023

Dear all,

many thanks to Denis, Patrick, Kofi, Geoffrey, Timur, Eline, Irina, 
David, Kees and Minella for very helpful data and references. They will 
all be duly taken into account. Just a brief comment on David's 

Most publications on the subject coincide in the analysis of 
cleft-constructions as involving some kind of nominalization of the 
extra-focal portion of an underlying (or, more neutrally, a 
paradigmatically related) simpler clause. Zhan & Sun 2013 even advocate 
it for Mandarin constructions like the following:

E3. 	a. 	Shì 	wǒ 	míngtiān 	yào 	mǎi 	nèi-běn 	shū.
Mand 	COP 	I 	tomorrow 	want 	buy 	that-CL.volume 	book
It is that I want to buy that book tomorrow. /
It is me that wants to buy that book tomorrow.

	b. 	Wǒ 	shì 	míngtiān 	yào 	mǎi 	nèi-běn 	shū.
	I 	COP 	tomorrow 	want 	buy 	that-CL.volume 	book
It is tomorrow that I want to buy that book.

	c. 	Wǒ 	míngtiān 	shì 	yào 	mǎi 	nèi-běn 	shū.
	I 	tomorrow 	COP 	want 	buy 	that-CL.volume 	book
I tomorrow want to buy that book. 	(Huang (1982: 372)

where it does not immediately impose itself, to say the least.

Anyway, such a syntactic analysis seems perfectly compatible with a 
functional analysis in terms of a focus construction. If you convert a 
simple clause into one where part of the former is nominalized, you to 
this with a communicative goal in mind. Which may precisely be focusing 
[in other contexts, it may be topicalization]. And on the other hand, as 
Denis argues in the article he made available, if the construction is 
grammaticalized, then it may end up as an (almost) simple clause which 
only contains a remnant of the underlying complexity; and if this 
remnant is insufficient to analyze the construction as a complex 
sentence, it may just have the function of a focus marker. Or more 
generally, a "thematic structure articulator" [my neologism], in case 
the communicative function was not focusing, but just subdivision of the 
clause into topic and comment.

Huang, Cheng-Teh James 1982, ‘Move wh in a language without wh 
movement’. /The Linguistic Review/ 1: 369–416.
Zhan, Fangqiong & Sun, Chaofen 2013, ‘A copula analysis of /shì/ in the 
Chinese cleft construction’. /Language and Linguistics/ 14(4): 755-789.


Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt

Tel.: 	+49/361/2113417
E-Post: 	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
Web: 	https://www.christianlehmann.eu
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